Built as a hunting lodge in 16th Century, the royal “Château de Chambord” is one of the most popular castles in the world

The Château de Chambord is one of the world’s most recognizable châteaux. It is well-known for its distinctive architecture, which combines genuine French medieval style with classic Renaissance structures. The structure, designed by King Francis I of France, was never finished.

The château and decorative moat, viewed from the North-West (2015) Photo Credit

According to Jean Guillaume, the stairway’s Italian design was eventually converted to a centrally positioned spiral staircase similar to that seen in the king’s home at Blois. This was also a design that matched the French tendency for elaborate, eye-catching staircases. However, in 1913, Marcel Reymond proposed that the original design was created by Leonardo da Vinci while he was a guest of the king at Clos Lucé, which was adjacent to the royal residence at Amboise.

Château de Chambord Photo Credit

This design was inspired by Leonardo’s plans for a château at Romorantin for the king’s mother. It also highlighted his interest in central planning and twin spiral staircases.

Although the disagreement continues, most experts generally accept that Leonardo was at least responsible for the design of the central staircase.

Château de Chambord Photo Credit
Château de Chambord Photo Credit

Archeological study by Dominic Hofbauer and Jean-Sylvain Caillou has revealed that the lack of symmetry in a number of the chateau’s façade stems from an initial plan that was scrapped shortly after construction began. The ground layout was then designed to revolve around the central staircase in a swirling, symmetrical pattern. Such a vorticose form has no precedent in architecture during this time period, and it appears to be inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s work on hydraulic turbines or his helicopter drawings. If the concept had been followed, it is claimed that this exceptional structure may have featured an open quadruple spiral staircase, which was bizarrely described by writer John Evelyn and architect Andrea Palladio but never built.

On September 6, 1519, Francis Pombriant was given the order to begin building of Château de Chambord, regardless of who designed it. The building was hindered by diminishing royal family funding and difficulty in establishing the structure’s foundation. The Italian War of 1521-1526 also halted the development. The walls were barely above ground level by 1524. Construction resumed in September 1526, with 1,800 men working on the château at the time. The renovation had cost 444,070 livres by the time King Francis I died in 1547.

Because the château was constructed and built as a hunting lodge, it could only accept brief visits. It was impractical to dwell there for an extended period of time. The King’s time there was spent on brief hunting trips, and he was only there for around seven weeks. Because of the high ceilings, huge windows, and big rooms, it was impractical to heat the chateau on a continuous basis. Similarly, because the château was quite a distance from any hamlet or estate, there was no easily available source of food other than wildlife. As a result, there was no alternative except to bring all of the food with the party, which may sometimes number up to 2,000 individuals.

As a result, there were no furnishings at the château during this time, and the furniture, dining equipment, wall coverings, and so on were delivered to the château for each hunting expedition, presenting a big logistical problem.

As a result, most of the furniture used at the period was designed to be disassembled in order to facilitate movement. The château was not utilized for about a century after 1547, when Francis died of a heart attack.

Château de Chambord Photo Credit
Château de Chambord Photo Credit

Following the death of King Francis I, the château was abandoned for more than 80 years by French rulers. Finally, in 1639, King Louis XIII entrusted it to his brother, Gaston d’Orléans, who saved the château from destruction by completing a huge repair campaign.

King Louis XIV had the vast keep rebuilt and the royal rooms furnished. The monarch subsequently erected a 1,200-horse stable, allowing him to utilize Chambord as a hunting lodge as well as a venue to entertain guests for a few weeks each year. Nonetheless, Louis XIV abandoned the château in 1685.

Château de Chambord Photo Credit

Stanislas Leszczyski, the deposed King of Poland and father-in-law of King Louis XV, stayed at Chambord from 1725 until 1733.

In 1745, Marshal of France Maurice de Saxe took the château as a prize for his courage and established his military regiment there. Maurice de Saxe died in 1750, and the massive château stood uninhabited for many years after that.

Château de Chambord Photo Credit

The Revolutionary government of 1792 ordered that all furniture be sold; the wall paneling was removed, and even the flooring were dismantled and sold for the worth of their lumber. The wood paneled doors were torched during the auction to keep the rooms warm. The château was abandoned once more until Napoleon Bonaparte gave it to his underling, Louis Alexandre Berthier. Berthier’s widow later acquired the château for the child Henri Charles Dieudonné, Duke of Bordeaux (1820-1883), who assumed the title Comte de Chambord. His grandfather, King Charles X (1824-1830), attempted to repair and inhabit the château, but both were banished in 1830.

In his book ‘Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea,’ published in the 1830s, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow commented on the grand property’s dilapidation. He saw that everything is dismal and neglected; the grass is untidy, the courtyard floor is cracked and broken, and the sculptures on the walls are damaged and deformed. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, the château was utilized as a field hospital.

The Comte de Chambord made the final attempt to make use of the massive château following his death in 1883. The château was bequeathed to his sister’s heirs, the Dukes of Parma, who was living in Austria at the time. The château was first bequeathed to Robert, Duke of Parma. It was given to Elias, Prince of Parma, after his death in 1907. Any repair attempts came to a halt with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The Château de Chambord was confiscated as enemy property in 1915.

Château de Chambord Photo Credit

The Duke of Parma’s family sued for restitution, but the case was not concluded until 1932. Work on renovations did not resume until a few years after World War II concluded in 1945.

The Compiègne and Louvre museums’ art treasures, including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, were kept at the Château de Chambord in 1939, soon before World War II broke out.

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